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Ultralight Hiking in Michigan's Dunes

Lake Michigan


I was hiking in Michigan, in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore park. It was March, so when I made it through the woods and over the dunes, I would have miles of beach to myself. It was just an over-nighter, a chance to test some new ultralight backpacking equipment. I went up and down the hills quickly, enjoying the cold air.

Ultralight Cooking

On my first break, halfway through the forest, I cooked noodles. The cheap 3-ounce pot was from Walmart or the dollar store, and it worked fine. From the catalog descriptions, the expensive titanium pots all seem to be heavier, so I was happy with this discovery. They probably make the expensive ones too thick and with too many gadgets.

I did have to use a small twig-fire when my homemade alcohol stove didn't provide enough heat. I later learned that isopropyl alcohol doesn't burn as hot as the alcohol used as gas additive. The twigs worked okay though.

Hiking on the Beach

After lunch, I hiked to Lake Michigan and sat up on a large sand dune. I watched the waves push ice up onto the empty beach, while I listened to the coyotes howling. I walked down to the water and looked for petoskey stones, without luck. Then the snow began. Hiking in Michigan in March has its risks-and its rewards.

I was hiking in running shoes, and it would be well below freezing that night. In Northern Michigan, March is definitely part of winter. My feet stayed warm while I was hiking, but I hadn't counted on them getting wet. Fortunately I had a pair of warm, dry socks for sleeping.

It was the first time I had used my GoLite Breeze backpack, which weighed only 13 ounces. My pack weight was only about nine pounds total, and that only because I threw in some canned food. I was going light, but I knew the forest here, and I knew my abilities.

My sleeping bag was a 17-ounce Western HiLite. It was the first time I would use it when the temperature was below freezing (It hit 25 degrees Fahrenheit that night). Fortunately, it wasn't too windy.

At the edge of the forest, behind the dunes, I set up my small tarp. I piled up pine needles and dead bracken ferns under it. This made a warm mattress, and I slept well. My one-pound sleeping bag had kept me warmer than my three-pounder used to.

In the morning there was only a dusting of snow. I poured a little alcohol in the cut-off bottom of a Pepsi can (my 1/2-ounce stove) and heated up some tea. I ate some crackers and hit the trail.

Later that day I ended my trip with a hike to the village of Empire, six or seven miles away. I was satisfied with what I had learned. Only my cheap tarp (and cheap stove fuel) had disappointed me. It was too small, mostly.

After hiking in Michigan for years, I know it well. So I know where to look for dead grass and bracken ferns, for example, which can be used to make a warm mattress in a few minutes. Knowledge, obviously, can be as helpful as expensive gear.

Related page:
Michigan Backpacking - Three Unknown Places

Visit EverythingAboutTravel.com for information on Vacation Spots in Michigan.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Ultralight Hiking in MIchigan